A future of change

Agriculture is a cultural lifeblood of Idaho. It’s been the way of life for generations of Idahoans. It’s also the single largest contributor to Idaho’s economy. 

Idaho’s farmers and ranchers produce more food than could ever be consumed in the state. If all of Idaho’s agricultural products were consumed by Idahoans, every person in Idaho would  need to eat 189 pieces of bread, 40 potatoes, 3 pounds of sugar, 2 pounds of beef, 2 pounds of cheese, and 1 cup of beans per day. While the state has a long history of feeding people far outside its borders, the industry is changing. That’s because, like many things that Idahoans hold dear, agriculture is threatened due to climate change. 

As farmers know, weather and agriculture are deeply interconnected systems. Small changes in weather patterns can have drastic impacts, both positive and negative, on crop productivity. According to the Agriculture Report of the McClure Center for Public Policy’s Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment, Idaho’s agriculture will be impacted by two types of weather system changes: higher temperatures and more variable rainfall and streamflow.

As temperatures rise, growing seasons may lengthen. However, higher temperatures will require more water, increasing irrigation and energy costs. In addition, Idaho’s 700,000+ dairy cows will be more likely to suffer from heat stress in the summer. In the winter, warmer temperatures will raise the cost of storing potatoes.

Warmer temperatures will also cause snowpack to melt earlier in the year. While some areas may benefit from water availability early in the year, other areas will struggle with water shortages in the summer when farmers need water most. The increased and earlier water runoff can also cause irregular flooding and delayed plantings in certain regions of the state. Wetter conditions can also encourage pests, which are costly for farmers to manage.

Farmers will ultimately bear the brunt of adapting to these changing weather conditions. Since each region will experience a different type and degree of impact, solutions need to be multifaceted and robust. It is critical that policymakers implement solutions that support farmers facing these unique situations and provide them the financial and structural support needed to sustainably adapt to our changing climate.

The solution in our soils

ICL is beginning to work on an agricultural solution that will not only help farmers adapt to changing weather patterns, but also could draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, ultimately minimizing the effects of climate change.

This agricultural solution is part of a national movement of promoting sustainable farming practices such as crop rotation, cover crops, reduced grazing, installation of windbreaks, use of compost, and sustainable water management. These practices promote naturally nutrient-rich soil, which helps farmers increase yield. Because these practices keep carbon-rich plant life under the surface of the soil, they also reduce the amount of carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere. 

To implement these practices, farmers and ranchers need funding and technical support. Idaho has legislation and agencies in place to assist farmers with Healthy Soil practices, but these agencies are underfunded and understaffed. Take action and support your local farmers by telling your state legislator to fund these much-needed adaptive measures.